Wildlife Watch: Going goose banding

ADDISON, Vt. (WCAX) We're going goose banding for this Wildlife Watch!

It's a process where biologists and volunteers work together to corner geese and then give them individual tracking numbers.

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department does this every year. This time, our Cat Viglienzoni went to the Dead Creek Wildlife Refuge in Addison with them to see how it's done.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: So all this is a pretty delicate operation because you can't corral geese easily. So we have this row of volunteers that's behind me. You can see them kind of lined up. The goal is so that the geese do not escape. So the geese obviously don't want to get caught by volunteers. They don't know what we're trying to do. So we have a group on the field that's on the other side of me right now, cutting off their escape from that way. And the group right here, along this road. They're hoping to get the geese into the pond that's right over here, and at that point, corral them into a space. They're going to set up a makeshift little banding station where we can get the geese into. And then from there, we can pull the geese up and band them.

So right now they've got the geese on the shore on the other side from us. And we're in a little bit of a holding pattern right now. The reason is that they're waiting to get a canoe into the water to cut off escape on the water on the other end. Because where we want them to go is to the field that's across the way behind me. Because if we can get them to that field, that's where going to be setting up the corral for the banding to start.

David Sausville/Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department: This is a little warm. Usually, we won't band if it gets over 85 degrees because it's stressful to people and birds themselves.

We trap statewide for Canada geese and we try to band birds throughout the state to get the age and sex ratios of the birds which gives us an idea of how good the production was for the year. And with the band returns, we can get an estimate of harvest during hunting seasons. We can see the different habitats they use up and down the flyway.

So what they do is the individuals bring them to a bander. And they turn the bird upside-down. Because male and females both look alike. So you have to look internally in the cloaca to tell whether it's a male or female. And when the feathers are completely in, you can also tell the age.

And so then they put a band on it and what we do is record the information. And they have individual numbers... It's basically like a social security number.

And as people recover these, some people can see these with their powerful spotting scopes. And they can call them in. So when these show up in say Massachusetts or Maryland, we know they survived and we know how far they've traveled, what habitat they're using. So we can aim to manage that.

Cat Viglienzoni: You have a lot of volunteers here today.

David Sausville: This is one of six days that we do this statewide. And primarily we have crews of 10-12 people. But this is the big public roundup. And it gives the individuals such as young children a chance to get up close to the birds, make a connection with wildlife, and then hopefully our goal is to have them protect the habitat long-range.

It's management of the people and how they take care of the habitat and land in the future that's going to determine what we have here in the state.

Cat Viglienzoni: Why do you band this time of year?

David Sausville: This time of year from about mid-June to about first or second week of July, the adults have molted their feathers and are flightless. And that's the only reason we can capture them.

Cat Viglienzoni: OK, so tell me what I need to do if I were to band a goose like this?

Amy Alfieri/Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department: Fold the tail back so you can expose the cloaca. And then you'll put your fingers underneath, use your thumbs to spread it out. She's being very cooperative.

Cat Viglienzoni: That's very nice of her.

Amy Alfieri: And we do have a female.

Cat Viglienzoni: We have a female.

Amy Alfieri: And we'll take a band. Doesn't matter which leg you put it on, but you want to make sure that when the goose is standing up, that the number is upright. And then you squeeze the band shut.

Cat Viglienzoni: And we give that data to someone?

Amy Alfieri: Yep. You'll call that to our record-keeper, who is standing by.

Amy Alfieri: So what number do we have? The last two digits.

Cat Viglienzoni: Six, six... And it is a female.

Amy Alfieri: And we determined it's local.

Cat Viglienzoni: And it is a local female.

Once the banding is done, they release all the geese into the ponds and field behind me. They said this year, they had 34 new birds in this session and eight returning ones.

If you spot one of these banded geese, either while bird-watching or hunting, click here for a link to the federal database where you can enter the number in to help scientists track the birds.